Friday, September 26, 2008

Bad thinking all round in Battershill story
Sept. 26, 2008

What’s done is done, so there’s little point in getting too worked up over the many missteps in the Paul Battershill saga.
But boy, there was some flawed thinking going on there at a whole lot of levels. And what’s most disturbing is that if it weren’t for a Victoria businessman inadvertently bringing the messy business to light in the first place, we might never have heard a word about any of it.
If you haven’t yet read Times Colonist reporter Rob Shaw’s excellent piece this past Sunday on Battershill’s hard, fast fall from grace as Victoria’s police chief, add it to your must-read list.
It chronicles an alarming amount of seriously bad decision-making leading up to Battershill’s forced resignation last month - on the part of Battershill, Mayor Alan Lowe and Victoria’s civilian police board. That the story took almost a full year to come out also tells you how badly those at the centre of the tale didn’t want you to know any of it.
The short version of the saga is that Battershill got rid of five senior managers and a long-time executive assistant during his nine years as chief, paying each of them handsomely to go away. The severance agreements totalled more than $600,000, with at least some of them negotiated by a lawyer who Battershill was having an affair with.
That he chose to have an affair with someone the police department was paying to help him fire some of his managers - well, that’s a stellar example of wrong thinking all on its own. But as Shaw’s story noted, Battershill also chose to brag about the affair with Marli Rusen to his employees, in explicit detail. By the time Victoria businessman Gerald Hartwig started stirring up trouble for Battershill last October, the affair was common knowledge in the department.
Hartwig hadn’t gone looking for an affair. When he filed a Freedom of Information request for Battershill’s expense accounts last fall, he was merely looking for answers as to why the police department couldn’t afford more downtown foot patrols. But when the law firm that employed Battershill’s paramour suddenly got antsy over Hartwig’s request, events took an interesting turn.
Enter Mayor Alan Lowe. He found out about the situation over an Oct. 7 coffee with Hartwig. But instead of bringing the matter to the immediate attention of the Victoria police board at its meeting two days later, Lowe - who chairs the board - inexplicably decided he’d wait to tell directors at some future meeting when there were more of them in attendance.
The Battershill story broke in the media less than 24 hours later. The blindsided police board was left looking inept and ill-informed, a perception that I would have to say has only been strengthened by the events that have followed.
What we now know is that the police board simply wasn’t paying attention to the major personnel problems that were developing inside the police department under Battershill’s leadership. They weren’t questioning the decisions he was making - to the point that directors signed off on a $125,000 severance agreement for Battershill’s former executive assistant that only Lowe had actually read.
The board didn’t question the unusual clause in the agreement forbidding the assistant from talking to them. Other than Lowe, none of them even knew it was in there.
Then came the RCMP report on the Battershill case a few months later. In yet another lapse of judgment, Lowe refused to provide a copy of the report to members of the police board and instead chose to give them his own personal summary of events at an oral presentation. And they let him get away with it.
Neither Lowe nor the police board have done anything illegal, of course. Under the provisions of B.C.’s Police Act, all the power for disciplining a police chief rests exclusively with the mayor of the municipality in question.
I don’t know who thought that was a good idea. But even if that’s the law - and hopefully it won’t be for much longer - it’s still clear in the Battershill saga that the police board was asleep at the switch. Long after that embarrassing media leak brought about by Lowe’s decision to keep them in the dark a while longer, the police board was still on auto-cruise.
Battershill did much good for the city, which shouldn’t be overlooked just because things ended so scandalously. But what was bad about Paul Battershill was made much worse by the actions of Victoria’s mayor and police board, and we’re owed some answers before the next chief is hired.


Anonymous said...

Jody, some of the members of the Police Board responded to some of the recent negative accusations in an op-ed piece in the Sunday TC. In particular, they claim they were following the direction provided by the Police Act. Your thoughts?

lafife said...

There's a great op-ed by Fred Mills (former senior police officer)in Thursday's TC in regards to the op-ed Rob commented on.

broadpowerscanada said...

That was 2008, this is now 2014. Battershill was in bed with the OPCC, I filed a BC Police Act complaint against Battershill in May 2002, the OPCC sent my complaint to Battershill unlawfully. The BC Police Act clearly stated a complaint against a chief of police MUST go to the Police Board. But corrupt officials and a corrupt chief of police do what they do best, look after each other and ignore the laws they swore to uphold and protect. Now Ida Chong wants to become Mayor of Victoria, she is in the middle of our Saga as she was our MLA. In Nov 2013, the Victoria police board got shaken up again, after Mayor Fortin shut down PSWA Canada's Police Act Policy Complaint to stop Victoria police officers from giving only verbal subjective reports to medical staff when police take a citizen to ER for a mental health assessment. We at PSWA wrote to Stan Lowe BC's Police Commissioner asking for another police department to investigate our complaint, after that Victoria Police Board members started resigning! The OPCC ordered further investigation into our complaint, now as of Aug 2014, Victoria Police MUST provide the detainee and medical staff with a copy of a detention report. Thanks for nothing Battershill for obstructing Justice! 13 years later the policy gets passed. Corruption in Victoria, will it ever end. Now we are waiting for the so called form that police MUST fill out, if one exist. I hope Battershill is better at fighting fires then being a chief of police.